The Bay Area is showing its trust in science and heeding the warnings of experts, and restaurant owners still say that indoor dining isn't as easy of a sell as outdoor dining is — even though all Bay Area counties but one are now allowing restaurants to operate at 50% capacity indoors.
Lots of restaurateurs around San Francisco have been hesitant — both last fall when San Francisco last entered the "Orange" tier and then briefly got to the "Yellow" tier before backsliding, and now — to reopen at all given their physical limitations. Restaurants without a lot of potential outdoor space have in many cases waited out the entire pandemic to date — hot spots like sister restaurants Frances and Octavia, for example, though Octavia's Instagram account suggests that a reopening is imminent.
One by one, though, restaurants are popping back up and coming alive again, and the more people who are fully vaccinated, the more that there will be some among them who feel more at ease getting back to the pleasures of being fed and waited on.
The Mercury News spoke to a few restaurateurs this week, and noted that because of the Bay Area's generally obedient population with pandemic lockdowns — which has resulted in one of the lowest COVID death tolls in the nation — there are still signs of a hangover as things reopen. And that's with good reason given the fact that things are not exactly safe for anyone but the fully vaccinated, and there still may be risks from vaccine-resistant variants.
According to data from OpenTable, reservations and walk-ins at San Francisco restaurants were down an average of 73 percent between April 6 and April 12 compared to the same period in 2019. Meanwhile, in parts of the country which have never had any strong adherence to lockdown orders, like Miami and San Antonio, restaurants and bars are doing better business than before the pandemic arrived.
The owners of The Star in Oakland and Little Star Valencia in San Francisco say that business has been great at their outdoor setups, but people aren't exactly clamoring for indoor seats. The company's Director of Business Operations Shannon Orr tells the Mercury News, "Our patios at every shop are for sure full. That isn’t an issue."
After a long winter of COVID paranoia and a full lockdown that even banned outdoor dining through January, and with indoor dining only allowed since early March, San Franciscans are understandably wary — but many people are clamoring to eat out again, especially the senior set.
Paul Einbund, owner of The Morris in the Mission/Potrero, told the New York Times recently, "We are getting more of our older clientele coming back. Normally these are people who if I hadn’t seen in a year it would be so weird I would call them to see if they were OK."
He said he even saw, with great shock and pleasure, a regular diner come in who had told him over a year ago that he'd been diagnosed with a terminal illness. "He was dining with three businessmen, and they went big and ordered this incredible Chartreuse," Einbund said, referring to his collection of vintage Chartreuse at the restaurant. "That table gave me so much energy that night," he added.
Lindsey J. Leininger, a health policy researcher and a clinical professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, tells the Times that some of the public messaging has been over-cautious, and it's triggered something innate in many of us.
"We’re biologically wired to avoid viral threats and abhor uncertainty,” Dr. Leininger said. "Some people cope with uncertainty by saying ‘To heck with it!’ and avoid all precaution, while others become super-cautious."
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